QUANTICO, Va. (Army News Service, June 18, 2015) -- The Army has a firm grip on the Chairman's Cup it won last year at the Warrior Games and team members say they'll fend off challengers trying to wrest it away at this year's games on Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, June 19 - 28.

The Army team has a high bar to clear this year, one they set themselves during last year's games, by earning 23 gold medals, 27 silver and 21 bronze. That was 17 more total medals than the Marines, who finished in second place with a total of 54.

Throughout the games, wounded, ill and injured service members and veterans from six teams - Army, Marine Corps, Air Force, Navy/Coast Guard, Special Operations Command and United Kingdom - will compete in track and field, shooting, swimming, cycling, archery, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball.

ASSESSING TEAM'S POTENTIAL

On June 18, a day before the opening ceremony, team members provided insight into their chances of winning.

There's been a lot of discussion among team members about wanting a repeat of last year's performance, said Keoki Smythe, adaptive reconditioning coach for Warrior Transition Command.

Smythe, who's been a coach and athlete during previous DOD Warrior Games, including last year's, has observed how this and past teams have progressed from forming to training to competing, so he's in a good position to assess their chances this year.

"Last year, the team came together mentally and performed well. This year, the team seems to be bonding a lot faster than in the last few years that I've been with the program, which is really nice," he said, indicating that the Army team has a pretty good shot at keeping the cup.

Smythe, with service dog, Bella, by his side, was reflective about the upcoming competition and team-building process, which began earlier this year at the regionals and Army trials and proceeding to training at three camps.

"It would be nice to win it, and we want that," he said, "but at the end of the day, it's all about the journey for these athletes and the things they overcome. It's been great watching them overcome adversity."

He said that all the military services put out great teams and believes all will perform well.

Ricardo Villalobos, a first-year contender, is competing in cycling, swimming, shotput and discus.

The Army team is very competitive, said Villalobos, who competed in swimming during high school.

"When we're training in the pool, we push ourselves against each other so we can become better. It's definitely been motivating," he said.

Like Smythe, he too said he noticed that the team is bonding very well.

Villalobos said he was pleasantly surprised to find out that some of the team members lived just a few hours away from him in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. When they're not in training, he said he hangs out with them.

That's the level of camaraderie they've all attained, he said.

Villalobos also has a service dog with him at all times. The Afghanistan veteran, who is coping with post-traumatic stress and a spinal cord injury, says when he's stressed, his canine companion keeps him calm. "I don't know what I'd do without her."

Nicholas Titman is competing in sitting volleyball, wheelchair basketball, cycling, swimming and track. For him too, it's his first year at the games.

"We're all hoping it happens again this year," he said, referring to the much-coveted Chairman's Cup. "We've been working together and training hard. We're one Family."

Titman said the Army team has gotten a preview of some of the competition they're up against.

The Army Western Regional Command held its trials with the Air Force and United Kingdom teams earlier this year, he said. The Army team received some good insights into their abilities and in turn, they saw who they were up against.

During those trials, all three teams developed friendships and it was nice meeting them again here in Quantico, he said.

He added that the whole experience of training, bonding and building friendships has been terrific. "Winning will put the icing on the cake for everyone."

SECRETS OF BONDING

Sydney Davis, who is another first-year competitor, is competing in shotput, discus, archery, air rifle, wheelchair basketball and sitting volleyball. She offered her insights into how the process of bonding works to form a winning team.

Winning is 50 percent physical and the rest mental, she believes, and much of the mental aspect deals with how the team bonds.

"The physical part, we know we can do that. We've had plenty of practice time," she said. "And the mental, we've got that down as well."

A major part of the bonding process, which she also calls "meshing," involves understanding the needs and desires of the other team members and keeping the lines of communications open with everyone.

For instance, she said some of the players are really introverted and others are extroverted.

The really introverted ones will opt out of discussions, she said. When that happens, the extroverts will try to pull them in, by saying something like, "Hey, I haven't heard you talk in a while. What's your opinion?

"They don't want to talk at first," she continued, "but then they want to talk. They have great ideas too." That leads to strengthening bonds as well.

As for the extroverts, they are the dominant ones who always want to lead. "We pull those back" to give everyone a chance to participate, she said.

Davis characterized herself as somewhat between introvert and extroverts, so she said it's easy to notice when someone is extreme at either end.

Comprehensive Soldier and Family Fitness, or CSF2, has also been involved in the Army team-building process, she said. CSF2 holds frequent team building exercises, which Davis calls "fun games," like holding hands in a circle and trying to pass a hula hoop person to person around the circle without anyone breaking their handgrip. Of course, there are a lot of other games, she said.

Davis assesses this year's chances of winning as excellent.

She thinks the Army will win the cup again because she's spoken to team members from last year's Army team, who are here again this year, and they've informed her that they've got another winning team, she said.

Also, Davis herself knows what it takes to be a champion.

She competed in shotput and discus in high school for two years in Colorado and made it to state. This year, she learned archery, and within two months of learning, won the Virginia state championship. She resides at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, at the warrior transition unit there.

The Army team leaders "found me and asked if I want to participate after learning I'd won the state championship," she said.

She said she joined the Army in 2011 "straight out of high school." One of the things she liked about the Army was the high level of camaraderie, she said, just team Army at this year's games.

OBSERVATIONS FROM LEADERSHIP

Defense Secretary Ash Carter spoke at the opening ceremony, June 19.

"The Warrior Games --- you … the participants in the [DOD] Warrior Games, you're the pinnacle of DoD adaptive sports programs --- activities that have helped our men and women heal together … in mind, in body, and soul," he said.

Generations of warriors have served their nations when the most desperate call came: "Go to war," the defense secretary said. The [DOD] Warrior Games showcase their survival, he added.
Carter noted that over the past year, more than 150,000 U.S. wounded warriors have participated in 28 sports camps and 51 clinics, among other activities.

"I have observed our extraordinary Army team and am convinced we are in it to win it," Col. Chris Toner, assistant surgeon for Warrior Care and Transition and commander of Warrior Transition Command said, prior to opening ceremony day.

Toner said he's inspired by all 40 of the athletes on the Army team. "They serve as role models of courage, character, and the Army Soldier spirit and they epitomize the Warrior Ethos, 'I Will Never Quit,'" he added.

Toner explained that the Army's adaptive reconditioning program promotes an array of activities for recovering warriors to promote physical and emotional recovery, including archery, biking, cooking, yoga, aquatic exercises, human optimization, plus more. Adaptive reconditioning programs at warrior transition units across the country embody spiritual, emotional, family, physical, social and career in line with the Soldier's Comprehensive Transition Plan.

GAMES RUNDOWN

- Friday, June 19: opening ceremony

- Saturday, June 20: wheelchair basketball seeded games

- Sunday, June 21: cycling race and medals; wheelchair basketball playoffs

- Monday, June 22: archery competition and medals; wheelchair basketball playoffs

- Tuesday, June 23: field competition; wheelchair basketball finals and medals, track competition and medals

- Wednesday, June 24: Capitol Hill day

- Thursday, June 25: sitting volleyball seeded games

- Friday, June 26: shooting competition and medals; sitting volleyball playoffs

- Saturday, June 27: swimming competition and medals; sitting volleyball playoffs

- Sunday, June 28: wheelchair rugby exhibition; sitting volleyball finals and medals; closing ceremony